Commitment matters

There are only a few ways that government can impact economic development. Admittedly, they can have profound effects – positive or negative – but you can boil down the options:

Direct funding of economic development (incentives, R&D, direct training, marketing, etc.)

Focused funding on things that influence economic development (education, roads, rail, etc.)

Regulatory/legislative issues

Something I would call embedding a culture of economic development within government

This is an example of direct funding of economic development. A billion dollar fund taken from oil profits directly to fund research and development and to attract large R&D players to the state of Oklahoma. On a population base of $3.5 million, that’s about $286/per person. Certainly not Ireland in its spending, but a good figure. Remember, this is not all ‘economic development’ spending, just this initiative to encourage more R&D in the state.

Contrast that with New Brunswick. Bernard Lord set up the ‘Innovation Foundation’ to be the catalyst that would move New Brunswick from last in R&D spending to in the ‘top three’ in Canada. Then he funded it with $25 million (or about $33/per person) – nine times less than the Oklahoma initiative.

I had calculated then, an easy calculation really, that if New Brunswick wanted to be in the ‘top three’, it would have to spend at least another $100 million per year (not over many years like the Innovation Foundation’s $25 million). It’s a clear calculation. Either you a) ante up the bucks yourself as a government or b) you go get it – federal government or private sector.

Simple, really.

My point is that all this talk of self-sufficiency doesn’t mean much without commitment. And just getting economic development spending back to mid 1990 levels (as a percentage of the budget) would require 10s of millions more each year.

We didn’t see that in budget #1, I doubt we will in budget #2.